Mustering Confidence in Printmaking as an Art

Kelpies Framed Woodcut Jenn White

Look at Mum Go! - woodcut

It’s the time of year for themed artwork, at least for me, and the wood-carving tools and printmaking skills have been getting good workouts.  Next week, the Queen’s Birthday holiday weekend will see numerous festivals happening around Victoria, including the Australian Kelpie Muster in Casterton.  An Acquisitive Art Competition, in conjunction with the Casterton Rotary Club, is part of the festival – the theme, Kelpies, of course.

My entry for the competition is done on Masonite, which meant regular blade-sharpening.  I enjoy working with Masonite and MDF, but both tend to dull the cutting blades quickly.  The block of the two Kelpie pups might look fairly simple, but it took quite some time to cut, after initially drawing the design onto the Masonite.  Like any piece of artwork, there was tweaking and fiddling during the process to achieve the desired result.

Despite the increasing popularity and awareness of skills employed in printmaking, there are still those within the art community that do not seem to class a print as artwork.  This was highlighted for me just yesterday.  A well-known artist in his own right, a friend commented that printmaking is a good hobby.  Along with many other folk, he obviously considers printmaking a craft.  There’s nothing wrong with that, as there is ‘craft’ involved in every artistic endeavour.  By definition, a craft is an activity involving skill in making things by hand.  Whether it’s applying paint to a canvas, most usually ‘by hand’ or using one’s hands to carve a design into a piece of wood, inking up the finished block, and pulling the print by using pressure from a baren in one’s  hand, it’s all art to me.

Being a ‘crafts-person’, I’m in good company.  Rembrandt, my favourite artist, was not only a painter, but also a sketcher and a printmaker.  Durer’s woodcuts are amazing in their detail.  An artist of more recent times and closer to home, Margaret Preston, an Aussie printmaker, made her mark in the art world with her vibrant woodcut prints.  And, this week, I was thrilled to view an exhibition of Vida Pearson‘s work at Local Images Gallery in Penola, South Australia.  Like Margaret Preston, Vida hand colours her prints, pulled from lino cuts.  The drawing skill, fine line-work, the detail, the vibrancy of colour against a black background, all add to a joyous celebration of the art and craft of printmaking.  The time it takes to produce even a single edition, let alone numerous editions of fifty look-alike prints, as well as hand-painting the colours, must be phenomenal.

I know I have a  long way to go, in skill and experience as an artist, but with a passion for printmaking the journey is exciting, sometimes convoluted, occasionally frustrating, and never, ever dull.


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